One of the quietest spots on the planet, Tekapo has some of the world’s darkest and busiest skies, and is home to the Dark Sky Project. We were lucky enough to have the Dark Sky Experience and take a look at the amazing Canterbury skies.

Formerly Earth & Sky Stargazing, Dark Sky Project was founded in 2004, by Tekapo locals and night sky enthusiasts Graeme Murray and Hide Ozawa. Beginning with a research project at the Mt. John Observatory, the project has grown to host over 40,000 visitors on a range of exclusive stargazing experiences every year. Situated in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, they are leaders in astro-tourism and advocates of dark sky preservation. Searching for knowledge of space and understanding of creation, Dark Sky Project strives to make the night skies accessible to all and inspire lifelong passion and understanding for dark sky preservation. Partnering with Ngai Tahu Tourism in July 2019, the next chapter of their journey began with a new astronomy centre in Tekapo, with aims to establish the region as the best in the world for discovering the night skies. 

A place for people to connect and discover, Dark Sky Project is a uniquely New Zealand experience and the region’s centre of astronomy and stargazing, with a 125-year-old Brashear telescope and many other astronomical offerings. The Summit Experience is the ultimate stargazing experience, with stunning mountain surrounds, beautiful skies and state-of-the-art viewing technologies. A world-renowned astronomical centre, the experience is in partnership with the University of Canterbury at Mt John Observatory, with expert guides sharing the stories and science of our skies. The Dark Sky Project also offers a world first, daytime experience, bringing together Māori heritage, science and multimedia installations in ‘Big Bang’ of inspiration and wonder; the Dark Sky Experience is a treat for the senses and is educational and entertaining, as well as thought-provoking and fascinating.

We had the opportunity to visit the Dark Sky Project this April. Set in the stunning surrounds of Tekapo, the Dark Sky Experience was an amazing peek into the great skies of New Zealand. A clear night meant we could see bright stars, the moon and the incredible Tarantula Nebula. The Tarantula Nebula was named for its glowing filaments which resemble the legs of a spider, and is an H II region of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a companion galaxy to the Milky Way. The Dark Sky Experience combined the science of what we could see in the sky with local cultural heritage and knowledge into one fantastic encounter.

Coming up on the 26th May, Dark Sky Project will be holding a lunar eclipse party at their private Cowan’s Observatory. With several telescopes and guides to see the Moon and other deep sky objects, this event is not to be missed! The party will run from 9.30pm til midnight, offering BBQ snacks, hot drinks and a shuttle service with every ticket. Dark Sky Project is also working hard to establish an astrophotography tour, which will run a couple of times every month at Cowan’s Observatory. 

Left to Right: Luca Devescovi and Daniel Gaussen, Dark Sky Project – Mt John Observatory 

Dark Sky Project is home to many amazing guides, astronomers and scientists, passionate about sharing what they do. A proud, guiding team leader at Dark Sky, Luca Devescovi has loved astronomy since he was a child. Born in the North-East of Italy, Luca was a chef for twenty years before he decided to follow his life-long curiosity for astronomy. “I couldn’t have made a better choice, not only because of my passion for astronomy, but also because I’ve discovered how much I love guiding and teaching too.” He is fascinated with physics and has a particular interest in black holes and supernovae, and is proud to work in “one of the most important stargazing companies in the world.” 

Daniel Gaussen is also an astronomy guide for Dark Sky Project. Daniel studied astronomy and planetary science in the UK and has a passion for understanding the universe and for photographing deep space. Daniel is grateful to work under the beautiful Tekapo sky and loves to “share what I know about astronomy with people of all ages, and I believe that understanding the night sky makes it even more beautiful.”

One of the top astronomical research observatories in New Zealand, many astronomers carry out their research at the Mt John Observatory. Planetary astronomer and Rutherford Discovery Fellow Michele Bannister is one such researcher, as well as a lecturer at the University of Canterbury. Her research focuses on our Solar System, investigating the formation and evolution of planetary systems, collaborating on international planetary missions around the world. She spoke at our ‘2020 Over and Out’ Meet Up in November about new space exploration possible from the new Vera Rubin Observatory in Chile and opportunities to map the night sky in new ways. The Mt John Observatory provides world-class facilities for NZ-based research, hands-on learning opportunities for university and school students, and amazing tourism experiences for all.

In the world’s largest dark sky reserve, the Dark Sky Project connects people to the night sky. Educating and inspiring visitors on the importance of night sky preservation, the Dark Sky Project offers unique experiences for visitors, locals, and researchers under the beautiful Tekapo skies.